Not mine...:sigh:...Please read and review.


Eowyn stood upon the tall tower of the Houses of Healing, the chill of the wind tracing fingers over her skin. Her thin dressing robe did nothing to quell the cold of the night, and she shivered slightly. The grass was wet with icy dew, and upon the breeze came the spicy scent of symblemyne. She grasped the edges of her gown to draw it close, and stepped up upon the edge of the wall. The stone was frigid under her bare feet, but she cared not. She drew herself to her full height, and stared out over the plains. The moon, mostly hidden by thick clouds, had waned to a sliver, and cast a feeble blue glow over the white stone of the city. Beneath her, shale cliffs spilled away with a breathtaking drop, their sharp crags reaching up like jagged fingers to tear any flesh they might find. Another rush of strong wind molded her gown around her, and sent small white flowers flying and whirling about her ankles. She swayed a bit, the wind pressing on her back like an insistent hand, as if urging her to plunge from the wall to the cliffs below. She shut her eyes, raised her hands slightly from her sides for balance, and lifted her chin toward the sky.

Suddenly, a strong hand closed around her wrist and gave a sharp tug. She started and lost purchase on the rock, slipping backward with a little cry of surprise and pain as her injured arm twinged a protest at the harsh treatment. She landed against a broad chest, and felt arms encircle her waist to stop her fall. She placed her good hand against the chest and pushed out violently, flinging herself backward, and looked up into the face of Faramir of Gondor. He was staring at her with sobered concern in his deep gray eyes, and Eowyn felt she saw a glint of sadness therein as well. She lowered her hands and bowed her head slightly, apologizing wordlessly for striking at him. He ducked his chin, trying to seek her gaze.

"Lady, forgive my intrusion, but the healers found you were not abed at this late hour, and were worried. They have dispatched many men to try to find you. They feared you may be delusional with fever."

Her pale skin flushed with anger and embarrassment. "I am fine, Lord Faramir, neither delusional nor feverish," she muttered. "I merely wanted to breathe the night air, and escape my bower for a short time."

Faramir gave a low chuckle. "Not many who have enjoyed the comforts of the Houses of Healing have spoken of them so."

"And how is that, my lord?" Eowyn lowered her eyes, already knowing the answer.

"As a prison."

Eowyn blushed again. "Lord, I do not wish to insult the hospitality of your healers, nor to suggest that my care has been anything less than incomparable." She sighed, rubbing absently at her aching collarbone. "I am merely..."

"You are restless," interrupted Faramir. "I understand. I myself am under the care of the healers." He fell silent for a moment, assessing her with a disconcertingly searching gaze. "I hope I did not hurt you, my lady. I only feared for your safety." He lifted his hand as if to touch her shoulder, but Eowyn turned silently from him, resting her hands on the wall and staring out into the dark of the evening. The night sky was covered by a thick layer of scudding cloud, behind which the moon hid her face, appearing only shortly to send beams of cold light across the gardens. A sudden movement caught Eowyn's attention, and she turned quickly to see a pair uniformed Gondorian soldiers come jogging around the corner, only to skid to a halt when they spied her. They looked askance to Faramir, and at a sign from him they bowed and backed up the way they had come.

"Doubtless racing to tell the gaolers that I haven't managed escape," Eowyn said bitterly, under her breath.

"You forget, lady, that above all I am a ranger," said Faramir, softly taking her arm. She stiffened at the touch. "And that being so, you should never say aloud what you do not wish to be heard." She looked sharply at him, suspecting that he was mocking her, but his face was void of any scorn. "Why is it, truly, that you desire so to be free from the hands of the healers? I can see in your face that you are not yet well."

With a slight pressure at her elbow, Faramir led her to a low standing stone bench set amid two bushes of lilac, and bade her sit. She shivered a bit again as the chill of the stone seeped through her dressing gown. Faramir swept out of his deep green cloak, and stooped to swath it about her shoulders. She tensed as his fingers brushed the bare skin of her throat as he sought to fasten the clasp. She was immediately rueful as she saw his face change, sadden, and she dropped her eyes. With a sigh that seemed dredged from his core, Faramir secured the cloak around her, carefully pinning it shut. Eowyn herself sighed as he withdrew his hand and sank to the bench next to her. The coat was still warm from Faramir's body, and she couldn't help but savor the comfort of it. She fingered the brooch that held the mantle snug about her. It was small, but carefully wrought of white gold into the likeness of a barren tree. Within its branches were twined seven minute opals, glowing faintly in the scant moonlight. "The seven stars," she murmured to herself, brushing the clasp with a feathered touch.

"You know the lore of Gondor, then?" asked Faramir, surprise twisting his brow.

"Is there much that you do not hear, Ranger?" returned Eowyn, allowing a small smile to shape her mouth.

Faramir smiled as well, the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly. "There is not much, no, lady."

Eowyn straightened and shut her eyes, sifting her memory, then recited, as a schoolgirl,

"Tall ships, and tall kings,

Three times three;

What brought they from the foundered land

Over the flowing sea?

Seven stars, and seven stones,

And one white tree."

When she opened her eyes, Eowyn found Faramir regarding her with quiet respect. "Most of the laymen of Gondor could not recite that lay. I am truly struck that you have remembered it."

She laughed, and to Faramir it seemed as the quiet chime of a bell touched by the wind. "Despite what the men of Gondor think," she said, "the people of Rohan are not unschooled, nor are they uncaring of the history of the world around them." Faramir opened his mouth to protest, but she raised her hand to halt him. "I know what your people think of Rohan, lord. We are a simple people, surely, and perhaps insular. It is said that a man with an iron tool does not look with respect upon a man with naught but a stone. Yet the man with the iron tool is not superior in all things."

Faramir smiled again and gently shook his head. "You continue to surprise me, my lady. Any who would think ill of the Rohirrim need only seek your company, and they should be forever changed in their mind."

Two bright spots of color flushed Eowyn's pale cheeks. "You flatter me, Lord Faramir, but you mustn't say that. I, of all, am not representative of my people. I would not have any take me as a model of the realm of Rohan, for they would have far too low a sentiment of an admirable people. You should look to the King, or to my brother, or to the many who held at Helm's Deep when hope fled. I did nothing but stand in wait for their return."

Faramir regarded her gravely, then slowly placed his hand over Eowyn's. "I dare not be too familiar with you, Lady Eowyn, but you sadden me. You speak as if you are lowly, unworthy of the respect that you have earned at so high a price. Despite your youth, you are so angry, so cold."

Eowyn paled, and Faramir laid a supporting hand on her shoulder, fearing she might faint. "Another man has said such to me, that I am as one touched by the frost." Faramir was shocked to see a slick of tears spring to her eyes. "He wished that I should love him, that I should deign to be his bride. And when I refused, he..." She stopped, for a moment too distraught to continue, but gathered herself with a breath. "He is responsible for every trouble that has touched my land, my people. If not for him, my uncle would still be alive, my people would not have suffered so. If not for me..." She choked on the words and could not go on.

Faramir took and clasped her hands in his own. "My dearest lady, you cannot truly believe that all that has befallen has been due to him. This evil is far greater than one mortal man, though I curse his name for causing you anguish. You must not take upon yourself the responsibility for all that has come to pass in these dark days." Faramir faltered. "I know well the grief that you feel. I have lost in these days both father and brother. I ever torment myself with thoughts of how I should have saved them. My father held such anger toward me in his soul, such disappointment..." His voice became nothing more than a whisper. "And I could do nothing to make him love me as he loved dear Boromir..."

Faramir's voice caught and he was suddenly beset by a spasm of tortured coughing. He dropped Eowyn's hands and bent double at the waist, clutching at his chest. Eowyn winced with pity at his obvious distress, and rubbed his back gently, trying to ease his rigid muscles enough that he could gain a clean lungful of the night air. After a full minute of wracking coughs, Faramir managed to gain control, and he pulled in a long shuddering breath, then drew the back of his hand across his mouth. Eowyn was horrified to see a smear of blood on his lips, and upon his hand.

"Lord Faramir," she gasped. "You should not be out in the cold eve, you are not well!" Faramir drew another shaky breath, his face pale and bloodless, eyes red-rimmed and tearing. Eowyn reached to unclasp his mantle from her throat, saying, "Let me return your cloak, lord." He lifted his hand and laid it over hers, stopping her releasing the brooch. The touch of his hand upon hers gave Eowyn sudden pause, but she roused herself, fearing for his health. "Then you must let me take you back to your room and summon your healers." She started to get to her feet, but Faramir grasped her hand and pulled her back to the bench.

"I am fine, lady," he said in a faintly strangled voice. "At any rate, I must sit and rest a moment." He dropped his head and shut his eyes, trying to concentrate on quashing the urge to begin coughing again. He still gripped her hand in his own, and she realized he was trembling with sudden exhaustion.

Eowyn sat quietly and looked at his face, truly taking him in for the first time. From afar, he had seemed completely controlled, a skilled captain and a great warrior, born of noble blood. But now he seemed to her so different, strong and valiant, true, yet granted a heart of compassion, and bearing much sorrow and loss. She raised her free hand and softly wiped the blood from Faramir's mouth with her thumb.

"I am sorry to have drawn you here tonight, Lord Faramir," she whispered. "You are still ill yourself, with the black evil laid upon us by the servants of Sauron. Yet you do not receive the consideration that I am given. I am left at leisure, urged to rest and worry not about the tide of war. Yet you, Steward of Gondor, are asked both to heal and to lead at once. I am sorry."

"You well know that the curse of being noble born is that we are not afforded the simple pleasures that others enjoy, Lady Eowyn." Faramir's shoulders quaked a bit under a chill of fever. "We shall never long be allowed to rest or to leave the matters of war to others. We are called most often to be alone, when what we desire most is to have someone at our side. Sadly, power is often a lonely burden to bear."

"You forget, lord, that I was nothing but the niece of a king. Power is not a burden with which I was saddled."

"You are the niece of a king." Faramir tilted his head, his brow furrowing slightly. "My lady, the passing of the King does not take from you your birthright. Your people look to you for guidance. They followed you willingly on a journey to safety. They trusted you to keep them from harm, to show them to shelter from the storm of war. A leader who commands the trust of her people, and considers their lives equal to her own...that is indeed rare, my lady." He paused. "You are born of royalty, Lady Eowyn. And though I have known you not long, I feel there is none better suited to call herself the Princess of the Rohirrim."

Eowyn smiled sadly and murmured, "We are not so very different, you and I." Faramir raised his eyes to hers, a look of deep sorrow within. "We both suffer much to improve the fortunes of our people, yet the only fortune we find for ourselves is ill."

"And we are both very much alone," returned Faramir.

Eowyn's heart gave such a wrench that she nearly cried aloud from the sense of it. "You should go, my lord," she choked out quietly. She turned from him, cursing the tears that had risen unbidden to her eyes. He did not answer, but stared at her with a mien of such sadness and pity that she could scarcely bear it. "Please, I want you to go," she repeated, her voice still low, shaking. He sat silent for a moment, then rose slowly from the bench. He turned and placed his hands to lean heavily upon the stone wall behind, then dropped his head low. A lock of his ginger hair slid across his brow, fringing his eyelashes.

"You are filled with much grief, and much anger, Eowyn," he said softly, looking out over the cold, glittering cliffs, and Eowyn blanched at his use of her name. "You feel you are so alone. You feel you have lost everything in this war, that things have changed for ill, and shall never be the same. And you are right, my lady. Things never shall be the same, for either of us. Our worlds have been broken. Our families have been sundered. We have been drawn to the brink of death in service to our people. And still things are not clear. We cannot say if evil shall be defeated, if our kingdoms, our people, shall be saved. I know the pain it causes." Faramir turned to look at her and laid his hand over his heart. "But you choose to bear these things alone. Pain shared is pain halved, Lady Eowyn, and yet you refuse to allow anyone to touch your heart."

"My pain is my own, lord. I would not oppress anyone with the horror I have known..." Eowyn choked on the words. "Faramir, you have been so kind to me, in a time when I truly needed a friend. I do not wish to burden you with the memories of what I endured..."

Faramir ducked his head, looking her straight in the eyes. "You spoke of a man who wished for your love. I deem that he is the hand behind your pain." It was as though his gaze pinned her in place, and Eowyn found she could not look away. He slowly slid to a seat upon the bench at her side and took her hand once again. She shuddered, not at his touch, but at the memory of Wormtongue's breath upon her throat, the feeling of his skin, his touch soft yet sinister, against her own.

"Please, lord..." pled Eowyn, and the lights of the city shattered into shards, sparkling in jeweled starbursts as her eyes filled with tears. "Please..." she repeated, bringing Faramir's hand to her lips. "I beg you, speak of it no more. I cannot bear it..." Still clutching his hand, she dropped her head.

Gently, Faramir lifted his free hand and brushed a gossamer wisp of Eowyn's white-golden hair behind her ear. The feather-softness of his touch made her shiver involuntarily, and then her tears began to fall, and a sob hitched in her chest. Faramir gathered her into his arms, holding her tight to his chest. Her hands were pressed against his chest, trying to push him away, but he would not allow it, and finally all fight drained from Eowyn and she sagged into his embrace, snaking her hands behind Faramir's back to hold him tighter. He could feel her tears upon his throat, and a wave of pity and protectiveness swept over him. He stroked her hair with one hand, and whispered, "You needn't fear anymore, my lady. The tide has yet to turn, but we shall defeat the darkness before the end. Our people shall survive, and grow and rebuild. The sorrow shall pass into memory, and our hearts shall heal."

Against Faramir's chest, Eowyn shook her head in despair. "I fear my heart shall never be whole again, my lord. All of my wishes, my dreams, have been crushed. My uncle lies in state, for I could not save him...my brother girds for war, from which he shall likely not return. Again I am constrained to stay behind as watch as the fate of my people, of my family is decided. You, of all others, can understand...I have lost the man who was more father to me than uncle. Now Eomer shall be mired in the affairs of state and of war. Hama is dead. The women of the court are always talking of finding a husband and continuing the line of Eorl...but..." She faltered, and fell silent, paling at her near slip.

Faramir rested his cheek atop her head. "My lady, I know what it is that pricks your heart so." Eowyn closed her eyes in despair, tears wobbling upon her lashes. "I have spoken long with the king of Rohan, your brother. He has told me of your desire to be loved by the Lord Aragorn." A sob hitched in Eowyn's chest, and humiliation threatened to overwhelm her, her face flushed crimson. "He told me also that a bond between you could never be, that the Lord is betrothed to another." Faramir raised Eowyn's face in his hands, smoothing a tear away with his thumb. "But you mustn't allow this sadness to take your will to live, my lady, to find happiness." Faramir paused, conflicted. "I hope you think me not too bold, lady, but you are beautiful. One might even say perilously so. You mustn't believe that all is now lost, though it may seem so in the darkness of trial. Light and joy shall someday dawn upon our lands again, and you must find the strength to wait upon it."

With that Faramir gently laid his arm across Eowyn's shoulder and turned her to face the deep night beyond the wall